By Sonya Rehman
HELLO! Pakistan talks to well-known Pakistanis closely associated with the writing and publishing business to find out their opinion on the country’s literary scene.
Is Pakistan’s English literary scene flourishing, or, are there only a handful of established Pakistani authors (who write in English) that are given coverage by the media over and over again? Has there been an increase in young Pakistanis taking to writing their very first debut novels? Has the publishing business gotten ‘easier’ for aspiring novelists on home turf vis-à-vis international – primarily across the border – publishing houses?
In Pakistan, writing in English for an English speaking and English reading audience seems to be the next best, creative, ‘in’ thing to do. With the increase in the initiation of local publications and e-zines (carrying content in English) within the country, the local, English literary scene remains unchartered territory since there seems to be a greater demand for novels in English both within and outside Pakistan. So much so that well-known publishing houses in India have become increasingly interested in works originating from Pakistan – resulting in a new Pakistani author getting his/her first big break.
HELLO! Pakistan reached out to a few well-known Pakistanis closely associated with the writing and publishing business in the country to find out their opinion on the country’s literary scene and to shed some light on some imperative questions:
“I think the most significant factor by far in the increased number of Pakistani writers in English has been the growth of English language publishing in India, and the great interest Indians have in Pakistani fiction. You hear a lot about Pakistan and publishers in the West – but actually, the UK and US only publish a few Pakistani writers (and this hasn’t changed at all in the couple of years since journalists starting talking about the so-called ‘boom’ in Pakistani fiction) and it’s only in India that publishers are really looking out for Pakistani writers. I suppose the combination of familiarity and unknowingness is a large factor in this. And, of course, success breeds success – when I was growing up being published outside Pakistan seemed a remote possibility; that’s no longer the case. And of course this is wonderful – but if we want Pakistani writing in English to arrive at the next stage we need professional, effective publishing houses within Pakistan.”
– Kamila Shamsie, Author
“The Pakistani literary scene is exciting. At least half-a-dozen excellent writers in English alone have had their first books published in the last few years. And when I go onto university campuses to talk to students about creative writing courses, I’m amazed by the amount of interest. There’s a buzz.”
– Mohsin Hamid, Author
“Pakistan is the only Muslim country in the world with a large amount of English speakers due to colonialism; the current generation of Pakistani writers have an ease and facility with English mainly because of Western (and in the case of these current writers, mostly American) education and MFA programs in America and the UK, as well as an exposure to Western literary traditions from an early age. As long as tensions continue to simmer between Pakistan and India, the Muslim world and the Western world, and Pakistan’s own internal conflicts continue to be its biggest obstacle in the journey towards peace, security and stability, global readers will continue to be curious about the country, Islam, and the people and cultures that live under the Pakistani flag. Pakistani writers are meeting a fortuitous demand for literature about Pakistan produced in English – and they’re definitely finding themselves in the right place at the right time.”
– Bina Shah, Author
“So far so very good. I look forward to reading what our satirists make of the current political farce playing out in Pakistan. As they say, try as we might we couldn’t make it up.”
– Moni Mohsin, Author
“The Pakistani literary scene is running off the steam of a handful of disparate writers; in fact to call it a “scene” is something of a misnomer, most of these writers had never met till publication of their respective works. At best, literary critical mass comes in the midst of a local literary festival or book launch generating excitement for new works of fiction/non-fiction. Having said that aspiring writers and future output would greatly benefit from informal writing groups, which would allow an exchange of ideas, and criticism by peers- something every writer needs to consider before submitting a manuscript. Creative writing workshops, short story prizes and literary journals are becoming increasingly common, and more likely to contribute to a local and vibrant literary scene than the odd soiree. Plus it helps that the Indian publishing industry is particularly interested in writing from this region, and in some cases has served as a conduit for getting authors published outside the subcontinent. The opportunities for writers are vast but there is a desperate need to hone the craft of writing, and to familiarize oneself with the pantheon of great writers.”
– Aysha Raja, Owner of ‘The Last Word’ bookshop, publisher of ‘The Life’s Too Short Literary Review’ and a judge for the ‘2012 Commonwealth Writers Prize’